Do you often wake up in the middle of the night, ravenous and find you need to eat? How do you stop your nighttime eating?
What is nighttime eating syndrome?
Night time eating classifies as a syndrome. In order to meet the full diagnosis for night eating syndrome, one must have at least 3 of the following 5 criteria.
- “Morning anorexia” — skipping breakfast or not eating until 12:00 or later on four or more mornings per week
- “Evening hyperphagia” — eating more than 25 percent of one’s total daily calories (possibly in the form of continuous “grazing”) between dinner and bedtime
- Having difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Experiencing mood or anxiety symptoms that get worse at night — leaving one feeling more agitated, irritable, or depressed in the evening
- Presence of a belief that one must eat to go to sleep initially or to return to sleep
Even if you meet some of these criteria, night time eating can be stressful and irritating. You may not fit into the full diagnosis category, but you could still be eating at night and find it is totally messing with your sleep, making you tired or unproductive during the day and be totally draining in your efforts to stop.
Read here for signs and symptoms of binge eating disorder – https://www.vanessamclennan.com/binge-eating-disorder-the-warning-signs-symptoms-and-red-flags-to-look-out-for/
How do you stop?
From helping many of my clients, I know how draining an eating disorder is and how it ends up taking over your life. We focus a lot of our attention on the immediate of stopping the eating whilst we are doing it. That is bloody hard work.
Imagine the newtons cradle, which is the balls hanging from a string. You pull out the end ball let it go and it hits the other balls and because of the motion and energy that gets passed through each ball, it causes the end ball to swing out. The end ball is what we see with our nighttime eating. Trying to stop it mid flow, is working against all of the other balls. It makes it a lot easier to stop by working on the first ball and the other balls in between. Each ball will represent a thought, a belief, or a behaviour that then has an impact on something else and causes you to do something, which eventually leads to you eating at night.
For instance, one of my clients was trying to lose weight, so she was fasting during the day. She didn’t eat any breakfast or lunch time and she ate in the evening. By then she was so tired and hungry that she said she at a lot. She also used to suffer from anxiety and did not like people seeing her eat. Eating at night therefore allowed her to not worry about who was looking at her and she was able to relax fully in the evenings and eating helped her to do that.
To stop your night time eating, rather then focussing on trying to stop before you eat, stop the preceding behaviours. Here’s how.
1. Find your trigger.
What is the first ball in newtons cradle that is causing this. This can be hard to answer because we are only seeing our eating at night behaviour. Start by keeping a food journal to note how much and when we are eating throughout the day. Make it an emotional journal to note how you are feeling every day. This way we can keep a track of what does trigger us. We might see small upsets, someone annoying us and not relate it to the eating, but it will all add in. One of my clients was so conscious of eating in front of people that the only time she felt safe and relaxed was eating at night. We didn’t work on the night time eating, we worked on her feeling comfortable eating in front of people.
2. Structure your eating
During the day, you may not be eating on a regular basis, or your eating is disordered during the day, leaving you hungry at night. Start by making small habits into the day where you eat on a regular basis and eat more. Don’t start all at once, do one step at a time. In other words if having breakfast is too much of a jump, because at the moment you don’t eat till 12. Have one piece of fruit. This is where keeping a food journal helps, because you can see the irregularity and make small steps forward.
3. Create a sleep routine
Often my clients will be really stimulated at night and therefore have a disrupted sleep routine. Their hunger wakes them up. Put in some routines where your bedroom is only for sleep. Take out the phones and laptops or any work in there. Before you go to bed, build in a 30min down time. Having a wind down routine is important to help you start to feel relaxed. Meditating in the evening is a good wind down activity.
4. Work on the other issues
So many times I see in clients that they have other issues as well as the night time eating, such as anxiety, depression, sleep disorders. It might make sense to us logically that the one causing us the most issues is our night time eating, but we are back to the newtons cradle again. Your night time eating could be as a result of the other issues. Anxiety, around eating in front of people, worried about your weight, depression. These are all going to feed into the symptom of your eating at night. (Excuse the pun) Take steps to work on one train of thought at a time, one bit of behaviour at a time because it can be too much to change everything at once.
5. Get a health check
Get your body checked for other health issues that you may not realise you have. Some people do not have regular hunger hormone levels, or blood sugars are out of whack. There could be underlying dispositions such as diabetes, liver issues. You may be a normal weight so may not think anything is wrong. It’s a bit of a chicken and egg scenario, is your health poor because your eating has been disordered for a long time. Or do you have poor health that you do not know what is causing you to have disordered eating? There are companies, like Medichecks where you can get your blood tested at home. This can be helpful if you don’t know what to get tested, or the doctor won’t offer it for you.
Here is more information on Night time eating Disorder (NED) https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/eating-disorders/binge-eating-disorder/what-is-night-eating-syndrome
You might be interested in this other video on 3 steps to break the food addiction cycle